Guest Author ~ Ann Gimpel

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Blood and Magic

Can Luke conquer his past and claim the only woman he’s ever loved?

Book Description:

Magic didn’t just find Luke Caulfield. It chased him down, bludgeoned him, and has been dogging him ever since. Some lessons are harder than others. Luke survives by embracing danger and upping the ante to give it one better. An enforcer for the Coven, a large, established group of witches, his latest assignment is playing bodyguard to the daughter of Coven leaders.

Abigail Ruskin is chaperoning a spoiled twelve-year-old from New York to her parents’ home in Utah Territory when Luke gets on their stagecoach in Colorado. A powerful witch herself, Abigail senses Luke’s magic, but he’s so overwhelmingly male, she shies away from contact. Stuck between the petulant child and Luke’s raw sexual energy, Abigail can’t wait for the trip to end.

Wraiths, wolves, and humans with dark magick attack. Unpleasant truths surface about the child and Abigail’s well-ordered world crashes around her. Luke’s so attracted to Abigail, she’s almost all he can think about, but he’s leery too. In over his head, he summons enforcer backup. Will they help him save the woman he’s falling in love with, or demand her immediate execution?

Excerpt:

…It wasn’t Luke but a long, drawn-out shriek that brought Abigail thumping back to consciousness, her heart hammering triple time in her chest. Eyes wide and staring against the darkness, she warded herself just in time. Strong magic battered her. She tried to sense Luke, but that was the problem with wards. They protected by forming an impenetrable barrier and corralled her magic inside.

Whatever was pummeling her seemed to have given up. She risked chinking enough of a hole in her warding to send a tendril of magic outward because she needed information. When it came, it terrified her so badly, her heart stuttered. Dark things surrounded them: wraiths, mad wolves—those who’d been turned to serve the other side—and humans who’d sold their immortal souls for forbidden knowledge. Had the girl rallied them? How could she possibly be that powerful? Luke didn’t seem to be anywhere. Abigail hoped he’d concealed himself out of harm’s way, because the two of them couldn’t make the slightest dent in the dark horde outside. The stagecoach rocked and she realized someone was climbing onto the roof. Throat so dry she could barely breathe, she mended her warding.

The books. That’s what they want… Let them haul the miserable things out of here. She knew she should risk heaven and hell to keep such knowledge out of dark hands, but Abigail didn’t see how throwing her life away would alter the outcome. She heard voices speaking the Satanic tongue, and then dragging sounds as someone transferred the trunk to the ground. Luke shouldn’t have bothered to put it back up top, she thought grimly.

What had the Girauds been doing with such arcane tomes in the first place? She supposed there was the slightest chance they’d been protecting them from falling into the wrong hands. Yes, by all means, let’s give Coven members the benefit of the doubt. Except it was a struggle, and she didn’t know who the hell to trust anymore.

She waited until it was absolutely still outside, and a tentative scan told her the dark host she’d sensed earlier had moved on, before loosing her wards. The minute she did, she felt Luke’s energy. He pulled open one of the coach doors. “I scared up a couple of horses from a nearby farm. We need to go after those books—and the girl.”

She fought down the protest that rose to her lips, but it slid out anyway. “There aren’t enough of us.”

“Fixed that problem too.” He smiled grimly. “I can ward you if you want to stay here, but if you’re coming we need to get moving. Don’t want to let the trail get too cold.” From the smirk in his voice, she knew he was being sarcastic.

She sent her magic spiraling outward and felt the books pulsing with evil. No way that path would ever get cold. “Why couldn’t I feel them this strongly before? I know the trunk had to have been spelled, but still…”

“The trunk was spelled, and by someone with magic to burn. It’s over in those trees. I guess Carolyn’s minions were in a hurry and didn’t have a wagon.”

Abigail felt like a rube. The book trunk had already been packed and sealed when she’d picked Carolyn up in New York. She’d never even thought to examine it. “Did you see Carolyn?”

“Yup.” His upper lip curled into a sneer. “Caught a glimpse of her riding a mad wolf.”

“Do you suppose there’s some way we could separate her from Goody Osborne?” Abigail bit her lip nervously.

Luke shook his head. “Even if we could—and I don’t think it’s possible—there are too many unknowns. Her parents might have been turned. If that happened, the kid could have embraced evil before it entered her body. By the time we sorted all that out, the dark would have had one too many chances to kill us.”

Abigail winced at the unvarnished truth in his words. Any residual doubts she held about the necessity of destroying the girl melted away. “Yes,” she said through clenched teeth. “I’m coming with you.”

Luke boosted her onto one of the horses. She pulled her skirts out of the way. It was a normal saddle and this was scarcely a time for modesty. Luke vaulted onto his horse, kneeing it, and they took off up the Overland Stage Road at close to a full gallop. “We’re making too much noise,” she sent.

“Doesn’t matter. They’ll expect us to come after them.”

She clung to the horse with her legs, enjoying the feel of not having to ride sidesaddle. Luke’s horse was larger, faster, and soon pulled so far ahead she could barely see him. She kneed her horse, urging it to greater speed, but the animal shied, and then reared. Abigail struggled for balance and called magic to calm the spooked animal. Something sprang at her and knocked her to the ground. She sent killing magic to stop its heart, before realizing what it was. Panting, she crawled out from under a black and gray mad wolf with blood dribbling from its nostrils, and glanced warily about. Were there more of them?

Carolyn stepped from the shadows. It looked as if she was alone, but Abigail suspected otherwise. “What do you want?”

“Simple enough. I plan to use you to get rid of Breana Giraud—and others.” A sneer twisted the girl’s features into something unpleasant. “You think people don’t know you’re part of Coven government?”

Abigail set her mouth in a hard line. “Fine. So the other side knows about me. Question is, who are you really?”

“Don’t you recognize me?” Carolyn stepped closer and turned her face from side to side as if posing for a photographer. “I gave you my name, but I am far more than that.”

She’s arrogant. Perhaps I can use that in some way. Abigail spread her hands in a placating gesture. “Because I’m used to seeing you as Carolyn Giraud, I’m not certain who you are.” She paused for emphasis. “I’d like you to tell me.”

“Certainly.” A feral grin made the child look like something out of a nightmare. “It is always better to know who your adversary is.” Her voice became soft and silky. “I have access to magic you would kill for. You may not know it, but you’d like to work for us.” She laughed, but it sounded more like broken glass shattering against itself, than a twelve-year-old girl’s mirth. “We have real power, not that paltry tripe the Coven settles for.”

Abigail waited. When Carolyn didn’t say anything else, she said, “I’m listening…and considering your offer. Life is always better than the alternative.”

“Ha! They said you couldn’t be turned, but I told them they were wrong. I am The Promised, resurrected out of legend. Goody Osborne was but a start, and this little girl is merely a convenience.” Something like an outraged squawk followed the words, but Goody silenced Carolyn almost immediately. “What I really want is you, Abigail Ruskin.”

Shit! She couldn’t be The Promised… “You mean the Dark Messiah?” Abigail scrunched up her face and held her breath, hoping against hope she’d gotten it wrong.

“The same.” A supercilious expression etched into the girl’s features. “At least the other side has heard of me. Warms my black, black heart.”

“The books—?” Abigail hunted for a connection while she rode herd on terror that threatened to immobilize her, and clouded her judgment. If ever she needed a clear head, it was now, but her mind raced feverishly.

“They weren’t doing the girl’s parents any good moldering away in that underground chamber. I’d actually been searching for them for years.” She flashed a sly smile. “They used to be mine…”

annAbout the Author (please only post one bio)

Ann Gimpel is a mountaineer at heart. Recently retired from a long career as a psychologist, she remembers many hours at her desk where her body may have been stuck inside four walls, but her soul was planning yet one more trip to the backcountry. Around the turn of the last century (that would be 2000, not 1900!), she managed to finagle moving to the Eastern Sierra, a mecca for those in love with the mountains. It was during long backcountry treks that Ann’s writing evolved. Unlike some who see the backcountry as an excuse to drag friends and relatives along, Ann prefers solitude. Stories always ran around in her head on those journeys, sometimes as a hedge against abject terror when challenging conditions made her fear for her life, sometimes for company. Eventually, she returned from a trip and sat down at the computer. Three months later, a five hundred page novel emerged. Oh, it wasn’t very good, but it was a beginning. And, she learned a lot between writing that novel and its sequel.

Around that time, a friend of hers suggested she try her hand at short stories. It didn’t take long before that first story found its way into print and they’ve been accepted pretty regularly since then. One of Ann’s passions has always been ecology, so her tales often have a green twist.

In addition to writing, Ann enjoys wilderness photography. She lugs pounds of camera equipment in her backpack to distant locales every year. A standing joke is that over ten percent of her pack weight is camera gear which means someone else has to carry the food! That someone is her husband. They’ve shared a life together for a very long time. Children, grandchildren and three wolf hybrids round out their family.

www.anngimpel.com

http://anngimpel.blogspot.com

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@AnnGimpel


Guest Author ~ Ann Gimpel

blood

Book Description:

In a post-apocalyptic world where most people have been slaughtered, the Celtic gods and a few humans with magic are all that stands between survival and Earth falling into alien hands. The combination of dark sorcery leveraged by the enemy is daunting. Destruction is all but certain if the small enclaves of humans who are left can’t get past their distrust of the Celts.

Captured by the enemy, Aislinn Lenear wonders if she’ll ever see her bond wolf or Fionn, a Celtic god, again. She’s had nothing but her wits to rely on for years. They haven’t failed her yet, but escape from her current predicament seems remote.

An enticing blend of urban fantasy and romance, this second volume of the Earth Reclaimed Series provides fertile ground for Aislinn and Fionn’s relationship to deepen. Headstrong and independent, the pair runs up against each other’s demands time and time again. Fireworks spark. In the end, they learn to savor every moment in a bittersweet world where each day may well be their last.

Excerpt:

Chapter One

Fionn tumbled through a gateway and leapt to his feet. Something was decidedly wrong. The wolf and raven were right behind him, but he’d lost all sense of Aislinn’s presence in the traveling portal. It made him half-crazy with fear, but there was nothing he could do until the spell spit him out. Mouth dry, heartbeat thudding in his ears, he waited to see who would follow him out of the ragged hole he’d left in the ether.

For the love of the goddess, please let me be mistaken about this.

Rune emerged. A howl split the still air. “Where is she?” the black and gray timber wolf demanded. He reared up and plunked his paws on Fionn’s chest. “What happened to my bond mate? I cannot feel her anywhere.” He howled again. It was a mournful sound, full of grief. Fionn wrapped his arms around the wolf, but Rune dropped to the ground, apparently not interested in comfort.

“Yes, where did Aislinn go?” Bella demanded, bouncing forward with her awkward avian gait. Ever cantankerous, the raven was bonded to him, so Fionn was used to her moods. She spread her large wings, took to the air, and cawed her displeasure. He stared after her and struggled to manage a mounting sense of panic while balling his hands into fists. Both bond animals knew the truth: Aislinn had disappeared somewhere between Ely, Nevada and wherever they were now. He barked a word to close off his magic. The place they’d rolled out of shimmered and disappeared.

He loosed a string of Gaelic curses. “What the fuck went wrong?” he muttered. Fionn drew magic to augment his night vision and gazed wildly about for clues. They were in the midst of rubble that could well be Salt Lake City. So at least that part of his casting had been true. No, an inner voice corrected him, I doona know that. This could be anywhere. He shoved straggling strands of blond hair out of his eyes and sent his magic spinning outward to gather data. His heart beat a worried tattoo against his ribcage.

The air to his right took on a pearlescent hue. Bran and Arawn leapt through a portal in a flash of battle leathers, the snug-fitting garments indistinguishable from Fionn’s attire. Arawn barked a command; their gateway winked shut. His midnight gaze scanned the small group. “Why is Gwydion not here?” he demanded. “He left afore any of us.”

Rune threw his head back. Another desolate howl split the night.

Bran’s coppery eyes narrowed. “Aye, and where is the lass?”

“And that Hunter scum, Travis,” Fionn growled. He spread his hands in front of him. “I havena felt Aislinn since a few moments after we entered the portal. Join your magic to mine so we might figure out what has happened.”

Bran nodded curtly. “Aye, Travis must have lied to us, but to what purpose?”

“To save his own sorry hide, what else?” Fionn snapped. “Or mayhap because he wanted Aislinn for himself.”

The air took on an iridescent waviness. Gwydion stumbled out of the odd-looking place. Tangled in a welter of blue robes, he clutched an intricately carved staff; blond hair swirled around him. “Be gone, I say—Wait, what happened to—?” He took in the tableau as he lurched unsteadily to his feet. Fionn almost heard wheels turning as Gwydion tallied who was missing. The warrior magician pounded the end of his wooden staff into broken asphalt. Lightning crackled from the end of the staff, betraying his annoyance.

Something snapped in Fionn. Bright, brittle anger lanced through him He launched himself at Gwydion and drove the other Celtic god to the ground. “Bastard,” he screamed. “Ye were in charge of Travis. What? Ye couldna control a simple human? Look what your slipshod seeds have sown—” He raised a fist and drove it into the side of Gwydion’s face. It was more satisfying than using magic. Closer and more personal.

Rune jumped into the fray and sank his teeth into Gwydion’s leg. Bella cawed her disapproval. She tangled her talons in the mage’s long hair and pulled as she pecked at him. Gwydion bellowed in pain. The air thickened and developed an electric quality as he reached for his magic.

Fionn had just cocked his arm back to hit Gwydion again—before his fellow Celtic god shielded himself—when strong arms closed about him and dragged him back. Magic surrounded him, forming a barrier.

“That willna help,” Arawn, god of the dead, revenge, and terror, said, voice stern with command.

“Aye, it willna get your lass back,” Bran agreed. God of prophecy, the arts, and war, he often had a gentler approach than the other Celtic deities.

Gwydion rolled to a sit, looking dazed. He placed his hands on the wolf and raven, muttering in Gaelic. After a time, both animals retreated. He touched the bloodied places on his thigh; the flesh mended quickly. The master enchanter and god of illusion did not make any move to get to his feet. He settled his blue gaze on Fionn, bowed his head slightly, and said, “I am most sorry. Ye are right to be angry with me. The lad came at me flanked by Lemurians. I never even knew how many. When I sent my magic spiraling out to find Travis, he was gone beyond my reach.”

“Why didn’t ye tell me?” Fionn growled.

“How?” Gwydion countered, sounding weary. “Communication isna possible in the portals.”

Fionn groaned inwardly. He knew that. Where were his brains? Taking a wee holiday, a sarcastic inner voice suggested. Fionn jerked against the magic holding him. “You can let me go now,” he told Arawn and Bran. “I’ve returned to my senses.”

He stepped forward and extended a hand to Gwydion, who grasped it. “I am sorry I lost my temper.”

Something sparked from the mage’s blue eyes—compassion laced with pity. Gwydion stood, and then brushed off his robes; dust flew in all directions. He bent to retrieve his richly carved staff. It glowed blue-white when he touched it and he arched a brow at Fionn. “See, the staff knows battle lies ahead. The important thing is what we do now. A good start would be not tearing one another to bits.”

Though Fionn agreed, he secretly wondered if Gwydion might have tried harder were it not for the bad blood between them over Tara, Aislinn’s dead mother. As a MacLochlainn, Aislinn was bound to him, just like her mother had been. But Tara had loved Gwydion. To avoid marrying Fionn, she’d given herself to a stranger and run away to America, effectively severing an age-old bonding. Tara MacLochlainn had been an Irish queen. Under laws of blood and dynasty, she should have belonged to him, Fionn MacCumhaill, Celtic god of wisdom, knowledge, and divination…

Guess she had other ideas about that. What a fankle. Mayhap one we are still paying for. Fionn forced his mind to stay in the present. No point in dragging old bones out and chewing them half to death. Rune’s large black and gray head rammed his side. The wolf bared his fangs and growled.

“I understand.” Fionn settled his blue gaze on Rune. “We have to find her. And we will.”

“Let us go over what we know.” Bran stepped closer. Blond braids were tucked into tight-fitting battle leathers. He had a dreamy look about him, but Fionn wasn’t fooled. The god of prophecy’s mind was sharp as a whip.

“Good idea,” Arawn echoed. Dark hair cascaded down his leather-clad shoulders. Looking as grim as the dead he commanded, his face etched into harsh lines. Eyes so dark iris and pupil were indistinguishable, flashed fire.

“Let us ask the goddess’ blessing,” Fionn intoned. A weight like a cold stone settled into his guts. They couldn’t afford to make any mistakes. Aislinn’s life depended on them getting this right the first time. And my life right along with it. Fionn thought about the next thousand years without the only woman he’d ever truly loved; his soul shriveled. He cursed his immortality. Life without Aislinn wouldn’t be worth very damned much.

Gwydion began a Celtic chant. The other three joined in at proscribed intervals punctuated by Bella’s shrieks and Rune’s barks, whines, and howls. Night yielded to a sickly orange sunrise as they sang.

“I believe we are ready,” Gwydion murmured.

“Aye, I feel a goddess presence.” Arawn spoke reverently. “’Twill provide a balance point against all our male energies.”

“Let us return to cataloging what we know.” Fionn gestured impatiently. Though he understood the wisdom of securing divine assistance, he wanted to get moving before something lethal happened to Aislinn. A vision of her being tortured—long limbs splayed over a rack—rose to taunt him. He muffled a cry, but his mind wouldn’t clear. Blood ran down Aislinn’s face and blended with the red of her hair. Her golden eyes were glazed with pain. He bit down hard on his lower lip, feeling powerless. Adrenaline surged; it left a sour taste in the back of his throat.

“We are, indeed, ready.” Bran nodded.

Fionn latched onto the sound of Bran’s voice and let it pull him out of the black pit his mind had become.

Bran inhaled sharply. “The Hunter, Travis, sought us out. I dinna try verra hard to test his words, but there was enough truth in his tale to satisfy me.”

“And I, as well,” Gwydion agreed. “So mayhap his small group of humans truly was set upon by Lemurians—”

Fionn snapped his fingers. “I have it. That putrid poor-excuse-for-a-human cut a deal to save himself. Mayhap part of it was designed to wrest Aislinn away from me since he was in love with her, too. She told me—” The words curdled in his throat. He couldn’t bear the thought of Aislinn fucking anyone else. She’d been with Travis once. If she was telling me the truth… Mayhap she was with him many times and softened the telling to spare me.

Arawn cocked his head to one side. “Even though ye stopped midstream, what ye did say made sense. Travis agreed to serve as bait in exchange for his life—and mayhap the life of his bond animal as well. If he had his eye on the lass afore all this, well, the pot would have been all the sweeter.”

Fionn waved him to silence. “Ye say ye felt Lemurians?” He looked at Gwydion who nodded. “Well, then, she must be in Taltos. Where else would they take her?”

Relieved to have a destination and something to do, Fionn pulled magic, intent on leaving immediately.

“Hold.” Gwydion put up a hand.

“What?” Annoyed, muscles strung tighter than a bow, Fionn locked gazes with him. Blue eyes sparred with a nearly identical set.

“Ye canna go off half-cocked. There are not enough of us.” Gwydion hesitated. “As the god of wisdom, knowledge and divination, Fionn MacCumhaill, I would think ye would know that without me having to tell you.”

Frustration fueled rage. Fionn opened his mouth to tell Gwydion what he really thought of him. “Why you sanctimonious—”

“Never mind that,” Bran spoke up. “We need a strategy.”

“And mayhap more of us,” Arawn added.

“Aye, and what about Dewi?” Ignoring Fionn’s bitten off words and the challenge beneath them, Gwydion furled his brows.

Fionn blew out an impatient breath; his anger receded. The others were right. Dewi, the blood-red Celtic dragon god, was linked to the MacLochlainn women. She’d also spent centuries in the tunnels beneath Taltos, spying on the Lemurians. Yes, they definitely needed the dragon.

“All right,” he ground out through gritted teeth. “I get it. I agree we need Dewi, and probably more of us as well.”

“We must return to Marta’s house. As soon as we can.”

The wolf’s voice startled Fionn. He turned to look at Rune. The wolf padded closer. “I have been to Taltos both ways,” the wolf reminded him, growling low. “It is much easier and more direct if we enter through the portal in Marta’s basement. That way we maintain the element of surprise. The Mount Shasta gateway is akin to going to their front door and ringing a bell.”

Fionn kicked himself. Even the wolf is thinking more clearly than I am.

Rune had been bonded to Marta and knew her secrets. She’d been onto the Lemurians, delving deep into the extent of their lies. Before they’d killed her, she’d managed to figure out that the war against the dark gods was a sham. The Lemurians were actually in league with the dark. They were the ones who’d masterminded cracking the veils between the worlds to allow the dark ones access to Earth. An ancient race, the Lemurians understood they were dying. They needed an infusion of magic so they’d cut a deal. Access to Earth in exchange for—

Fionn filled his lungs with air, blew out a breath, and did it again. He had to get hold of himself or he’d be less than useless hunting for Aislinn. That will not happen. Focus, goddamn it. Pull it together. Fionn pushed the ache in his heart aside and buried it deep. He couldn’t afford emotion. Not now. Or mental forays into Lemurian treachery. When he’d met Aislinn, she’d been a foot soldier in the Lemurian army, branded so she couldn’t use her magic against them.

Voices flowed over him. When words fell into coherent patterns again, he heard Gwydion ticking off a plan on his fingers. Apparently one the others had formed without any input from him. How dare they? Anger flared hot and bright. Fionn welcomed it like a drowning man might grab a spar. He needed the energy to find the woman he loved.

“…agreed, Bran will hunt for Dewi. Arawn will return to the Old Country to muster as many of us as he can find. Fionn and I and the bond animals will return to Marta’s house. We will sneak into the tunnel a time or two to see what we can discover, but we will not move to rescue the lass until you arrive with reinforcements.”

Gwydion nailed Fionn with his blue gaze. “Aye and ye have returned to us. Did ye hear—?”

“Aye.” Fionn cut off Gwydion’s next words. “Let’s get moving.”

The master enchanter inclined his head. “As ye will.”

Fionn looked at him and wondered if it were mere coincidence Gwydion would end up babysitting him. He decided to test those waters. “I really would be fine with just the bond animals, feel free to join either Arawn or—”

“Pah!” Gwydion interrupted. “Not on your life. I know you, Fionn MacCumhaill. If ye returned alone, ye would turn Taltos upside down to find your lady love. Then the rest of us would have two to search for.”

Arawn moved forward and laid a hand on Fionn’s arm. “Remember,” he said, “the Lemurians came from Mu. They may still have a way to retreat there. If they do so, we will not be able to follow. Or they might strike a deal with the five remaining dark gods and go to one of their worlds if they feel threatened. We can travel to the border worlds, but it isna pleasant. Nay, if they have truly taken Aislinn to Taltos—and we do not know this as a fact—it is imperative they remain there. So, doona do anything foolish.”

“I understand.” Fionn clamped his jaws shut. Thoroughly chastised, he felt like a child again. He hadn’t considered either of the alternatives Arawn had just outlined. Apparently they’d come up in the part of the conversation he’d missed while wrestling with himself.

“I know ye do.” Arawn favored him with a rare smile. “Bran and I are leaving.” The words had scarcely left his mouth when the air around both mages took on a numinous quality.

Fionn locked gazes with Gwydion. “Are ye ready?”

“I am.” Rune took up his traveling position next to Fionn’s side.

“As am I.” Bella settled on his shoulder in a flutter of wings.

Fionn stared at the bond animals. They’d returned to audible speech; that must mean they’d gotten their anger under control. If they can do it, so can I.

Gwydion nodded slowly. “I do not believe there is aught else to be done right now, so the answer to your question would be aye.”

The air thickened as Gwydion drew magic to open a portal. Blessedly numb inside, Fionn added his own to the mix, buried a hand in Rune’s neck ruff, and stepped through.

* * * *

After they returned to Marta’s house in the ruins of Ely, Nevada, Fionn spent the next hour rattling through it looking for clues that might help them. He started in the bedroom, but Aislinn’s scent, a mix of honey and musk, clung to everything and nearly undid him. When he caught himself pulling her pillow to his nose, he threw it against the wall and stormed out of the room they’d shared.

The rest of the house hadn’t yielded anything. Fionn didn’t bother going up to the attic. Marta’s parents were there, trapped in a state of suspended animation by a strong spell. Best leave them to their rest since they held the gates between the worlds open.

Because there wasn’t anything else to do, he settled at the kitchen table with a bottle of mead and nearly emptied it. The anesthetic effect he hoped for hadn’t happened, though. At least not yet.

“Would ye like to talk about it?” Gwydion’s melodic voice interrupted Fionn’s bleak thoughts. He swiveled his head to look at the mage standing in the doorway, flanked by Rune and Bella. Dirt clung to his robes; Fionn wondered where he’d been. Gwydion had told him where he was going, but Fionn hadn’t paid much attention.

Hmph. Even the animals deserted me.

I’d have deserted me, too, a different inner voice inserted dryly. The way I banged around in here wanting to kill something—anything—if only it would bring Aislinn back to me. Fionn understood at a level beyond reckoning, if he ever laid eyes on Travis again, the Hunter would be dead before he saw what hit him.

He tipped the bottle in Gwydion’s direction. “Not sure what there is to say,” Fionn mumbled.

“Och and there is much to be said between us.” Gwydion clomped to the table, hooked a chair out with one of his perpetually bare feet, and sat heavily. “For example, we havena ever truly talked about Tara—”

“With good reason,” Fionn snapped.

Gwydion shook his head. “Ye doona trust me. I sense your hesitation. We must clear the air.”

Fionn opened his mouth, but Gwydion shook his head. “Hear me out. That empty place inside you? The one ye’re trying your damnedest to ignore—or drown with spirits? ’Tis akin to how I felt when Tara fled Ireland to escape having to choose you or me. She wanted me, but the ancient bond demanded she wed you.”

“I know all that. I still doona see—”

“For the love of the goddess, would ye stop interrupting?” Gwydion’s blue eyes flashed dangerously. Fionn subsided against the back of his seat. “’Twas no skin off your ass when the lass left Ireland, yet I mourned her loss every day. It’s been years, but I miss her still. ’Twas a gift to see her once again in the tunnels under Slototh’s lair—even if she was already dead.”

Something in Gwydion’s words penetrated the desolation surrounding Fionn. He’d known Gwydion cared for Tara, but he’d never appreciated the extent of his loss. Truth hit home and shame washed over him. When Gwydion waved it in front of his nose—no, make that shoved his nose right in it—Fionn recognized kindred pain. He drew his brows together. “Why were ye not angrier at me? We had words, but it seemed we made things up soon enough.”

“Nay, I simply buried my resentment. What would have been the point in holding a grudge? I tracked Tara to America. By then she’d wed another and made it painfully clear she wanted nothing to do with you or me—or the dragon—ever again.”

“At least part of that was my fault. I could have—”

A bitter laugh bubbled past the close-cropped red-blond beard on Gwydion’s face. “Aye, ye see it now. Ye dinna see it then. All ye could see then was that she was the MacLochlainn. Your MacLochlainn.”

Fionn looked at his hands. What Gwydion said was true. He hadn’t loved Tara and he’d known she didn’t even like him, yet he’d insisted on pressing forward with marriage. Of course, there was the niggling problem he already had a wife, so he’d been finagling a divorce. That had been when Tara, finally eighteen, took matters into her own hands and left Ireland.

“I really am sorry. I should have been more considerate—of both of you.”

“Och, aye.” A thread of magic forced his gaze to meet the master enchanter’s. “I forgive you.”

A corner of Fionn’s mouth turned downward. “The question is whether I can forgive myself.”

Gwydion held out a hand for the mead. Fionn passed it to him. Eyeing what was left of the bottle’s contents, Gwydion said, “There never was a drink that offered enough oblivion to purge Tara from my thoughts.”

“Wasna working for me, either.” Fionn snorted. “I should know this. Ye told me, but I wasna paying attention. Where did you and the animals go?”

“We did the same outside as ye were supposed to be doing within. That would be hunting for clues Travis may have dropped while he was here.”

Fionn waited. Instead of talking, Gwydion tipped the bottle and drank until it was empty. “Did ye find aught?” he asked after it appeared the other mage wasn’t going to say anything else.

Gwydion’s forehead creased. He shoved blond hair over his shoulders, pulled a leather thong out of his robes, and bound it out of the way. “It was odd,” he murmured. “At first we all,” he gestured toward Rune and Bella, “thought we sensed Old Ones—ah, I meant to say Lemurians. When I looked more closely, though, whatever had been there was gone.” He shrugged.

Something tugged at Fionn’s internal alarm system. Attuned to danger, it rarely failed him. “Do ye suppose they were after Marta’s parents?”

For a moment Gwydion looked confused. His features smoothed. “Och, ye mean the Lemurian-human hybrids ensorcelled in yon chamber.” He waved a hand over one shoulder. “Mayhap. There is little else here to draw the Old Ones.”

Fionn thought about the genetic manipulation that must have gone into hybridizing the couple in the attic and shuddered. Did the Old Ones want Marta’s parents’ blood so they could do the same thing to Aislinn?

“At least Aislinn is likely still on this side of the veil,” Gwydion muttered.

Fionn looked sharply at Gwydion, realizing the other mage must have read his thoughts. He dragged a hand down his face. “Aye, we all hope that.”

Something sharp closed over his calf. Rune had bitten him. “It is time. We should go into Taltos. I must see for myself whether my bond mate still lives.”

“Can ye feel her?” Fionn asked.

The wolf’s amber eyes gleamed in the dim kitchen. “No, but if she is in Taltos, I will know it once we open the gateway and I cross over.”

“They might have her shielded in some way—” Fionn cautioned.

“Enough words.” Rune nipped Fionn again. As if to support her fellow bond animal, Bella landed on Fionn’s shoulder and dug her talons deep.

A wry smile split Gwydion’s face. “It would appear the animals have spoken.”

“We did tell the others we’d do a reconnaissance.” Fionn stood.

Gwydion followed suit. Both men went to the corner of the kitchen with the hidden trap door. Fionn kicked the rug aside and tugged the door upward. When he looked back he saw Gwydion’s staff glowing with a blue-white light.

Fionn worked his way down the ladder, helping the wolf. It was awkward. When Aislinn had gone into Taltos without him, she’d used magic to transport the wolf to the gateway. The thought of her seared his soul. His throat felt thick. A pulse pounded behind one eye, promising a mother of a headache if he didn’t focus magic to soothe the inflamed blood vessels.

At the bottom of the ladder, he strode to the section of wall holding the gateway and began the incantation from Marta’s journals. Gwydion’s energy vibrated next to him. Stones scraped against one another as the gateway swung open. Fionn bent to give Rune instructions, but the wolf bounded through the opening and disappeared into the dark.

“Damn it.” Fionn swore softly. “Ye stay with me,” he said to Bella.

“I am not going past this doorway,” the bird informed him. She fluttered from his shoulder to a chair and perched on it. “Fewer of us, less chance of discovery. Safer for Aislinn.”

Fionn couldn’t help but agree with her. His bird had warmed to Aislinn much to his relief, since she’d taken a perverse delight in making all the other women in his life—including Tara—miserable.

“Mind speech,” Gwydion said sharply. “And precious little of that.”

“I suppose we follow the wolf. He gave us little choice.”

“After you.”

Fionn stepped through into a dark tunnel. Careful to mute his magic in case the Lemurians had posted guards nearby, he turned left and trailed after Rune. Guts tight, barely breathing, he moved beneath Taltos, the city built by Lemurians deep inside Mount Shasta. Desperation thrummed through him.

I have to find her. Failure is not an option.

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About the Author

Ann Gimpel is a clinical psychologist, with a Jungian bent. Avocations include mountaineering, skiing, wilderness photography and, of course, writing. A lifelong aficionado of the unusual, she began writing speculative fiction a few years ago. Since then her short fiction has appeared in a number of webzines and anthologies. Her longer books run the gamut from urban fantasy to paranormal romance. She’s published 19 books to date, with several more contracted for 2014.

A husband, grown children, grandchildren and three wolf hybrids round out her family.

www.anngimpel.com

http://anngimpel.blogspot.com

http://www.amazon.com/author/anngimpel

http://www.facebook.com/anngimpel.author

@AnnGimpel (for Twitter)


Guest Author ~ Ann Gimpel

clip_image002To Love a Highland Dragon

Book Description:

In a cave deep beneath Inverness, a dragon shifter stirs and wakens. The cave is the same and his hoard intact, yet Lachlan senses something amiss. Taking his human form, he ventures above ground with ancient memories flooding him. But nothing is the same. His castle has been replaced by ungainly row houses. Men aren’t wearing plaids and women scarcely wear anything at all.

In Inverness for a year on a psychiatry fellowship, Dr. Maggie Hibbins watches an oddly dressed man pick his way out of a heather and gorse thicket. Even though it runs counter to her better judgment, she teases him about his strange attire. He looks so lost—and so unbelievably handsome —she takes him to a pub for a meal, to a barbershop, and then home. Along the way the hard-to-accept truth sinks in: he has to be a refugee from another era.

Never a risk-taker, Maggie’s carefully constructed life is about to change forever. Swept up in an ancient prophecy that links her to Lachlan and his dragon, she must push the edges of the impossible to save both the present and her heart.

Excerpt:

Chapter One

Kheladin listened to the rush of blood as his multi-chambered heart pumped. After eons of nothingness, it was a welcome sound. A cool, sandy floor pressed against his scaled haunches. One whirling eye flickered open, followed by the other.

Where am I? He peered around himself and blew out a sigh, followed by steam, smoke, and fire.

Thanks be to Dewi— Kheladin invoked the blood-red Celtic dragon goddess— I am still in my cave. It smelled right, but I wasna certain.

He rotated his serpent’s head atop his long, sinuous neck. Vertebrae cracked. Kheladin lowered his head and scanned the place he and Lachlan, his human bond mate, had barricaded themselves into. It might have only been days ago, but somehow, it didn’t seem like days, or even months or a few years. His body felt rusty, as if he hadn’t used it in centuries.

How long did I sleep?

He shook his head. Copper scales flew everywhere, clanking against a pile that had formed around him. More than anything, the glittery heap reinforced his belief that he’d been asleep for a very long time. Dragons shed their scales annually. From the looks of the pile circling his body, he’d gone through hundreds of molt cycles. But how? The last thing he remembered was retreating to the cave far beneath Lachlan’s castle and working with the mage to construct strong wards.

Had the black wyvern grown so powerful he’d been able to force his magic into the very heart of Kheladin’s fortress?

If that is true— If we were really his prisoner, why did I finally waken? Is Lachlan still within me?

Stop! I have to take things one at a time.

He returned his gaze to the nooks and crannies of his spacious cave. He’d have to take inventory, but it appeared his treasure hadn’t been disturbed. Kheladin blew a plume of steam upward, followed by an experimental gout of fire. The black wyvern, his sworn enemy since before the Crusades, may have bested him, but he hadn’t gotten his slimy talons on any of Kheladin’s gold or jewels.

He shook out his back feet and shuffled to the pool at one end of the cave where he dipped his snout and drank deeply. The water didn’t taste quite right. It wasn’t poisoned, but it held an undercurrent of metals that had never been there before. Kheladin rolled the liquid around in his mouth. He didn’t recognize much of what he tasted.

The flavors are not familiar because I have been asleep for so long. Aye, that must be it. Part of his mind recoiled; he suspected he was deluding himself.

“We’re awake.” Lachlan’s voice hummed in the dragon’s mind.

“Aye, that we are.”

“How long did we sleep?”

“I doona know.” Water streamed down the dragon’s snout and neck. He knew what would come next; he didn’t have to wait long.

“Let us shift. We think better in my body.” Lachlan urged Kheladin to cede ascendency.

“Ye only think that is true.” Kheladin pushed back. “I was figuring things out afore ye woke.”

“Aye, I’m certain ye were, but…” But what? “Och aye, my brain is thick and fuzzy, as if I havena used it for a verra long time.”

“Mine feels the same.”

The bond allowed only one form at a time. Since they were in Kheladin’s body, he still had the upper hand; the dragon didn’t think Lachlan was strong enough to force a shift without his help. There’d been a time when he could have but not now.

Was it safe to venture above ground? Kheladin recalled the last day he’d seen the sun. After a vicious battle in the great room of Lachlan’s castle, they’d retreated to his cave and taken their dragon form as a final resort. Rhukon, the black wyvern, had pretended he wanted peace. He’d come with an envoy that had turned out to be a retinue of heavily armed men…

Both he and Lachlan had expected Rhukon to follow them underground. Kheladin’s last thought before nothingness descended had been amazement their enemy hadn’t pursued them. Hmph. He did come after us but with magic. Magic strong enough to penetrate our wards.

“Aye, and I was just thinking the same thing,” Lachlan sniped in a vexed tone.

“We trusted him,” Kheladin snarled. “More the fools we were. We should have known.” Despite drinking, his throat was still raw. He sucked more water down and fought rising anger at himself for being gullible. Even if Lachlan hadn’t known better, he should have. His stomach cramped from hunger.

Kheladin debated the wisdom of making his way through the warren of tunnels leading to the surface in dragon form. There had always been far more humans than dragons. Mayhap it would be wiser to accede to Lachlan’s wishes before they crept from their underground lair to rejoin the world of men.

“Grand idea.” Lachlan’s response was instantaneous, as was his first stab at shifting.

It took half a dozen attempts. Kheladin was far weaker than he’d imagined and Lachlan so feeble he was almost an impediment. Finally, once a shower of scales cleared, Lachlan’s emaciated body stood barefoot and naked in the cave.

*

Lacking the sharp night vision he enjoyed as a dragon, because his magic was so diminished, he kindled a mage light and glanced down at himself. Ribs pressed against his flesh, and a full beard extended halfway down his chest. Turning his head to both sides, he saw shoulder blades so sharp he was surprised they didn’t puncture his skin. Tawny hair fell in tangles past his waist. The only thing he couldn’t see was his eyes. Absent a glass, he was certain they were the same crystal-clear emerald color they’d always been.

Lachlan stumbled across the cave to a chest where he kept clothing. Dragons didn’t need such silly accoutrements; humans did. He sucked in a harsh breath. The wooden chest was falling to ruin. He tilted the lid against a wall; it canted to one side. Many of his clothes had moldered into unusable rags, but items toward the bottom had fared better. He found a cream-colored linen shirt with long, flowing sleeves, a black and green plaid embroidered with the insignia of his house—a dragon in flight—and soft, deerskin boots that laced to his knees.

He slid the shirt over his head and wrapped the plaid around himself, taking care to wind the tartan so its telltale insignia was hidden in its folds. Who knew if the black wyvern—or his agents—lurked near the mouth of the cave? Lachlan bent to lace his boots. A crimson cloak with only a few moth holes completed his outfit. He finger-combed his hair and smoothed his unruly beard. “Good God, but I must look a fright,” he muttered. “Mayhap I can sneak into my castle and set things aright afore anyone sees me. Surely whichever of my kinsmen are inhabiting the castle will be glad the master of the house has finally returned.”

Lachlan worked on bolstering a confidence he was far from feeling. He’d nearly made it to the end of the cave, where a rock-strewn path led upward, when he doubled back to get a sword and scabbard—just in case things weren’t as sanguine as he hoped. He located a thigh sheath and a short dagger as well, fumbling to attach them beneath his kilt. Underway once again, he hadn’t made it very far along the upward-sloping tunnel that ended at a well-hidden opening not far from the postern gate of his castle, when he ran into rocks littering the way.

He worked his way around progressively larger boulders until he came to a huge one that totally blocked the tunnel. Lachlan stared at it in disbelief. When had that happened? In all the time he’d been using these passageways, they’d never been blocked by rock fall. If he weren’t so weak, summoning magic to shove the rock over enough to allow him to pass wouldn’t be a problem. As it was, simply walking uphill proved a challenge.

He pinched the bridge of his nose between a grimy thumb and forefinger. His mage light weakened.

If I can’t even keep a light going, how in the goddess’ name will I be able to move that rock?

Lachlan hunkered next to the boulder and let his light die while he ran possibilities through his head. His stomach growled and clenched in hunger. Had he come through however much time had passed to die like a dog of starvation in his own cave?

“No, by God.” He slammed a fist against the boulder. The air sizzled. Magic. The rock was illusion. Not real.

Counter spell. I need the counter spell.

Maybe I don’t. He stood, took a deep breath, and walked into the huge rock. The air did more than sizzle; it flamed. If he’d been human, it would have burned him, but dragons were impervious to fire, as were dragon shifters. Lachlan waltzed through the rock, cursing Rhukon as he went. Five more boulders blocked his tunnel, each more charged with magic than the last.

Finally, sweating and cursing, he rounded the last curve; the air ahead lightened. He wanted to throw himself on the ground and screech his triumph.

Not a good idea.

“Let me out. Ye have no idea what we’ll find.”

Kheladin’s voice in his mind was welcome but the idea wasn’t. “Ye are right. Because we have no idea what is out there, we stay in my skin until we are certain. We can hide in this form far more easily than we can in yours.”

“Since when did we begin hiding?” The dragon sounded outraged.

“Our magic is weak.” Lachlan adopted a placating tone. “’Tis prudent to be cautious until it fully recovers.”

“No dragon would ever say such a thing.” Deep, fiery frustration rolled off Kheladin.

Steam belched from Lachlan’s mouth. “Stop that,” he hissed, but his mind voice was all but obliterated by wry dragon laughter.

“Why? I find it amusing that ye think an eight foot tall dragon with elegant copper scales and handsome, green eyes would be difficult to sequester. A hesitation. “And infuriating that we need to conceal ourselves at all. Need I remind you we’re warriors?”

“Quite taken with yourself, eh?” Lachlan sidestepped the issue of hiding; he didn’t want to discuss it further and risk being goaded into something unwise. Kheladin chuckled and pushed more steam through Lachlan’s mouth, punctuated by a few flames.

Lost in a sudden rush of memories, Lachlan slowed his pace. As a mage, he would have lived hundreds of years, but bonded to a dragon, he’d live forever. In preparation, he’d studied long years with Aether, a wizard and dragon shifter himself. Along the way, Lachlan had forsaken much—a wife and bairns, for starters, for what woman would put up with a husband who was so rarely at home?—to bond with a dragon, forming their partnership. Once Lachlan’s magic was finally strong enough, there’d been the niggling problem of locating that special dragon willing to join its life with his.

Because the bond conferred immortality on both the dragon and their human partner, dragons were notoriously picky. After all, dragon and mage would be welded through eternity. The magic could be undone, but the price was high: mages were stripped of power and their dragon mates lost much of theirs, too, as the bond unraveled. Lachlan had hunted for over a hundred years before finding Kheladin. The pairing had been instantaneous on both sides. He’d just settled in with his dragon, and was about to hunt down a wife to grace his castle, when the black wyvern had attacked.

“What are ye waiting for?” Kheladin sounded testy. “Daydreaming is a worthless pursuit. My grandmother is two thousand years old, and she moves faster than you.”

Lachlan snorted. He didn’t bother to explain there wasn’t much point in jumping through the opening in the gorse and thistle bushes and right into Rhukon’s arms. An unusual whirring filled the air, like the noisiest beehive he’d ever heard. His heart sped up, but the sound receded. “What the hell was that?” he muttered and made his way closer to the world outside his cave.

Finally at the end of the tunnel, Lachlan stepped to the opening, shoved some overgrown bushes out of the way, and peered through. What he saw was so unbelievable, he squeezed his eyes tight shut, opened them, and looked again. Unfortunately, nothing had changed. Worse, an ungainly, shiny cylinder roared past, making the same whirring noise he’d puzzled over moments before. He fell backward into the cave, breath harsh in his throat, and landed on his rump. Not only was the postern gate no longer there, neither was his castle. A long, unattractive row of attached structures stood in its stead.

“Holy godhead. What do I do now?”

“We go out there and find something to eat,” the dragon growled.

Lachlan gritted his teeth together. Kheladin had a good point. It was hard to think on an empty stomach.

“Here I was worried about Rhukon. At least I understood him. I fear whatever lies in wait for us will require all our skill.”

“Ye were never a coward. It is why I allowed the bond. Get moving.”

The dragon’s words settled him. Ashamed of his indecisiveness, Lachlan got to his feet, brushed dirt off his plaid, and worked his way through the bushes hiding the cave’s entrance. As he untangled stickers from the finely spun wool of his cloak and his plaid, he gawked at a very different world from the one he’d left. There wasn’t a field—or an animal—in sight. Roadways paved with something other than dirt and stones were punctuated by structures so numerous, they made him dizzy. The hideous incursion onto his lands stretched in every direction. Lachlan balled his hands into fists. He’d find out what had happened, by God. When he did, he’d make whoever had erected all those abominations take them down.

An occasional person walked by in the distance. They shocked him even more than the buildings and roads. For starters, the males weren’t wearing plaids, so there was no way to tell their clan. Females were immodestly covered. Many sported bare legs and breeks so tight he saw the separation between their ass cheeks. Lachlan’s groin stirred, cock hardening. Were the lassies no longer engaging in modesty or subterfuge and simply asking to be fucked? Or was this some new garb that befit a new era?

He detached the last thorn, finally clear of the thicket of sticker bushes. Where could he find a market with vendors? Did market day even still exist in this strange environment?

“Holy crap! A kilt, and an old-fashioned one at that. Tad bit early in the day for a costume ball, isn’t it?” A rich female voice laced with amusement, sounded behind him.

Lachlan spun, hands raised to call magic. He stopped dead once his gaze settled on a lass nearly as tall as himself, which meant she was close to six feet. She turned so she faced him squarely. Bare legs emerged from torn fabric that stopped just south of her female parts. Full breasts strained against scraps of material attached to strings tied around her neck and back. Her feet were encased in a few straps of leather. Long, blonde hair eddied around her, the color of sheaves of summer wheat.

His cock jumped to attention. His hands itched to make a grab for her breasts or her ass. She had an amazing ass: round and high and tight. What was expected of him? The lass was dressed in such a way as to invite him to simply tear what passed for breeks aside and enter her. Had times changed so drastically that women provoked men into public sex? He glanced about, half expecting to see couples having it off with one another willy-nilly.

“Well,” she urged. “Cat got your tongue?” She placed her hands on her hips. The motion stretched the tiny bits of flowered fabric that barely covered her nipples still further.

Lachlan bowed formally, straightened, and waited for her to hold out a hand for him to kiss. “I am Lachlan Moncrieffe, my lady. It is a pleasure to—”

She erupted into laughter—and didn’t hold out her hand. “I’m Maggie,” she managed between gouts of mirth. “What are you? A throwback to medieval times? You can drop the Sir Galahad routine.”

Lachlan felt his face heat. “I fear I do not understand the cause of your merriment … my lady.”

Maggie rolled her midnight blue eyes. “Oh, brother. Did you escape from a mental hospital? Nah, you’d be in pajamas then, not those fancy duds.” She dropped her hands to her sides and started to walk past him.

“No. Wait. Please, wait.” Lachlan cringed at the whining tone in his voice. The dragon was correct that the Moncrieffe was a proud house. They bowed to no one.

She eyed him askance. “What?”

“I am a stranger in this town.” He winced at the lie. Once upon a time, he’d been master of these lands. Apparently that time had long since passed. “I am footsore and hungry. Where might I find victuals and ale?”

Her eyes widened. Finely arched blonde brows drew together over a straight nose dotted by a few freckles. “Victuals and ale,” she repeated disbelievingly.

“Aye. Food and drink, in the common vernacular.”

“Oh, I understood you well enough,” Maggie murmured. “Your words, anyway. Your accent’s a bit off.” His stomach growled again, embarrassingly loud. “Guess you weren’t kidding about being hungry.” She eyed him appraisingly. “Do you have any money?”

Money. Too late he thought of the piles of gold coins and priceless gems lying on the floor of Kheladin’s cave. In the world he’d left, his word had been as good as his gold. He opened his mouth, but she waved him to silence. “I’ll stand you for a pint and some fish and chips. You can treat me next time.”

He heard her mutter, “Yeah right,” under her breath as she curled a hand around his arm and tugged. “Come on. I have a couple of hours and then I’ve got to go to work. I’m due in at three today.”

Lachlan trotted along next to her. She let go of him like he was a viper when he tried to close a hand over the one she’d laid so casually on his person. He cleared his throat and wondered what he could safely ask that wouldn’t give his secrets away. He could scarcely believe this alien landscape was Scotland, but if he asked what country they were in, or what year it was, she’d think him mad. He wondered if the black wyvern had used some diabolical dark magic to transport his cave to another locale, and then thought better of it. Even Rhukon wasn’t that powerful.

“In here.” She pointed to a door beneath a flashing sigil. He gawked at it. One minute it was red, the next blue, the next green, illuminating the word Open. What manner of magic was this? “Don’t tell me you have temporal lobe epilepsy.” She stared at him. “It’s only a neon sign. It doesn’t bite. Move on through the door. There’s food on the other side,” she added slyly.

Feeling like a rube, Lachlan searched for a latch, didn’t find one, and pushed his shoulder against the door. It opened, and he held it with a hand so Maggie could enter first. “After you, my lady,” he murmured.

“Stop that.” She spoke into his ear as she went past. “No more my ladies. Got it?”

“I think so.” He followed her into a low ceilinged room lined with wooden planks. It was the first thing that looked familiar. Parts of it, anyway. Men—kilt-less men—sat at the bar, hefting glasses and chatting. The tables were empty.

“What’ll it be, Mags?” a man with a towel tied around his waist called from behind the bar.

“Couple of pints and two of today’s special. Come to think of it,” she eyed Lachlan, “make that three of the special.”

“May I inquire just what the special is?” Lachlan asked, thinking he might want to order something different.

Maggie waved a hand at a black board suspended over the bar. “You can read?”

“Of course.” He resented the inference he might be uneducated but swallowed back harsh words.

“Excellent. Then move.” She shoved her body into his in a distressingly familiar way for such a communal location. Not that he wouldn’t have enjoyed the contact if they were alone and he were free to take advantage of it… “All the way to the back,” she hissed into his ear. “That way if you slip up, no one will hear.”

He bristled. Lachlan Moncrieffe did not sit in the back of any establishment. He was always given a choice table near the center of things. He opened his mouth to protest but thought better of it.

She scooped an armful of flattened scrolls off the bar before following him to the back of the room. Once there, she dumped them onto the table between them. He wanted to ask what they were but decided he should pretend to know. He turned the top sheaf of papers toward him and scanned the close-spaced print. Many of the words were unfamiliar, but what leapt off the page was The Inverness Courier and presumably the current date: June 10, 2012.

It had been 1683 when Rhukon had chivied him into the dragon’s cave. Three-hundred twenty-nine years, give or take a month or two. At least he was still in Inverness—for all the good it did him.

“You look as if you just saw a ghost.” Maggie spoke quietly.

“No. I am quite fine. Thank you for inquiring … my, er…” His voice trailed off.

“Good.” She nodded approvingly. “You’re learning.” The bartender slapped two mugs of ale on the scarred wooden table.

“On your tab, Mags?” he asked.

She nodded. “Except you owe me so much, you’ll never catch up.”

Lachlan took a sip of what turned out to be weak ale. It wasn’t half bad but could have stood an infusion of bitters. He puzzled over what Maggie meant. Why would the barkeep owe her? His nostrils flared. She must work at the establishment—probably as a damsel of ill repute from the looks of her. Mayhap, she hadn’t been paid her share of whatever she earned in quite some time.

Protectiveness flared deep inside him. Maggie should not have to earn her way lying on her back. He’d see to it she had a more seemly position.

Aye, once I find my way around this bizarre new world. Money wouldn’t be a problem, but changing four-hundred-year-old gold coins into today’s tender might be. Surely there were still banks that might accomplish something like that.

One thing at a time, he reminded himself.

“So.” She skewered him with her blue gaze—Norse eyes if he’d ever seen a set—and took a sip from her mug. “What did you see in the newspaper that upset you so much?”

“Nothing.” He tried for an offhand tone.

“Bullshit,” she said succinctly. “I’m a doctor. A psychiatrist. I read people’s faces quite well, and you look as if you’re perilously close to going into shock on me.”

clip_image004About the Author

Short Bio:

Ann Gimpel is a clinical psychologist, with a Jungian bent. Avocations include mountaineering, skiing, wilderness photography and, of course, writing. A lifelong aficionado of the unusual, she began writing speculative fiction a few years ago. Since then her short fiction has appeared in a number of webzines and anthologies. Several paranormal romance novellas are available in e-format. Three novels, Psyche’s Prophecy, Psyche’s Search, and Psyche’s Promise are small press publications available in e-format and paperback. Look for three more urban fantasy novels coming this summer and fall: To Tame a Highland Dragon, Earth’s Requiem and Earth’s Blood.

A husband, grown children, grandchildren and three wolf hybrids round out her family.

www.anngimpel.com

http://anngimpel.blogspot.com

http://www.amazon.com/author/anngimpel

http://www.facebook.com/anngimpel.author

@AnnGimpel (for Twitter)


Author Spotlight ~ Ann Gimpel

Mirandas Mate Banner 450 x 169

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As an agent for an international security firm, Miranda has her hands full. Between secretly lusting after her boss, Garen, and making sure the dirty little secret about her double life as a wolf shifter remains hidden, she’s still a virgin at nearly thirty.

Sent to eliminate the head of a human trafficking organization in Amsterdam, she barely escapes with her life. Injured, frightened, and under attack the second her private jet lands in the U.S., she doesn’t know where to turn.

Garen’s been watching Miranda just as surreptitiously as she’s been eying him. Unfortunately, the fact that she works for him is a showstopper. Plus, Garen has a few secrets of his own that have kept him single. He’s frantic once he discovers his oldest friend is besotted with Miranda, too. When she insists on heading up a covert operation, he’s worried sick, but can’t come up with a plausible reason to stop her.

Miranda’s life is on the line. Will Garen risk exposure to save her?

Excerpt:

…Garen threw caution to the winds. He clicked off his headset and tossed it into the next seat. His cock pressed mercilessly against the front of his pants; he could barely breathe he wanted Miranda so much. His wolf was nigh onto uncontrollable. It howled and snarled deep inside him. Garen forced it back. The last thing he needed was for fur or claws to sprout and ruin everything.

He could smell Miranda’s lust with his enhanced senses. She was so aroused, she was on the verge of coming. Strands of dark hair curled around her face. Her face was splotchy with excitement. Her blue eyes glowed warmly. Years of repressed desire slashed through him. He moved to the seat next to her and slid a hand between her legs. She moaned and pressed into him.

Possessiveness sounded an exultant note behind his breastbone. She wasn’t going to fight him. She wanted him just as much as he wanted her. He lowered his head and covered her mouth with his. She opened hers and sucked hungrily on his tongue. His cock throbbed. She wasn’t the only one on the edge of coming.

He felt her fingers on the fastenings of his pants, and then her hands closed around his shaft. He wanted to do everything to her. Kiss her, lick her, suckle her incredible breasts, and run his mouth down her body to settle on her clit. All those things would have to wait. What mattered now was getting inside her. He yanked her headset off and reached for her pants, delighted to find they had an elastic waistband.

The logical part of his brain was nearly obliterated with passion, but it reminded him she needed at least one leg free of her pants, which meant one shoe off. Reluctantly, he broke away from their embrace and pried her fingers off his cock.

“What?” Her voice was muzzy with need. “You started this. Come back here, goddammit.”

He laughed. God, but it felt good to laugh and hold Miranda in his arms. “Patience, darling. I just need to get one of your pant legs out of the way. Then you can straddle me.”

Between the two of them, they managed to unlace a boot and jimmy one of her legs out of her pants. He folded the chairs’ armrests out of the way, settled his hands on her hips, and helped her kneel above him. When she lowered herself so the heat of her surrounded him, he gasped. Sensation so intense it set every nerve on fire lanced through him. Her muscles clenched around his cock and held on. Hard nipples pressed against his chest. He thrust upward and his balls tightened.

“Sorry, darling. I’m not going to last long.” He moved a hand between them and rubbed her swollen clit.

Her muscles milked him. Her teeth sank into his shoulder. He could tell from her rhythmic movements and the tension in her nub she was coming. Garen let himself go. He’d imagined coming inside Miranda forever, and now it was finally happening. He growled low in the back of his throat as his semen arced into her.

He moved his hands to the sides of her face and kissed her long and deep. She turned her head, captured the fingers that had just been rubbing her, and licked them clean. It was so erotic, his cock throbbed where it was still buried deep in her pussy.

She wriggled out of his grasp, reached for the napkin wrapped around the beer bottle, and stuffed it between her legs before she pulled her underwear and pants back into place. Her face was a gorgeous, rosy hue. He started to tell her how lovely she was when she said, “Sorry. I’m sorry about that. Didn’t mean to. You’re my boss. I understand what we did was wrong. Don’t worry, I won’t let my, uh, my, well, whatever it was, get out of control again. I’m going into the head to clean up. We should probably have used a condom. I have an IUD, but still—”

“Whoa.” He held up a hand. Garen was having a hard time with the transition from a sexual high to a we-shouldn’t-have-done-this conversation. “I enjoyed making love with you, Miranda. You’re an amazing—”

She shook her head. “No. It was a mistake. It won’t happen again. I promise. You caught me at a weak moment.” She pushed past him and headed for the rear of the aircraft.

Garen shoved his still half-hard cock back into his pants and zipped up. A leaden deadness settled around his heart. She may have had sex with him, but Miranda didn’t care about him. The post-coital conversation he’d thought they’d have was considerably different. He bit down hard on his disappointment. Better if he went back to the cockpit. That way she wouldn’t have to look at him when she came back from the john.

What could they possibly have to say to one another beyond him apologizing for being swept off his feet by her lithe body and firm curves? No way could he tell her he truly cared about her. Not in light of the revulsion he’d seen mirrored in her face as she stammered through her regrets. She was obviously appalled by what she considered a weakness.

Garen picked up his headset and settled it into place before walking into the cockpit. He wasn’t certain just what he’d say to Lars. No way he’d be able to hide the lingering scent of sex. He latched the door and sat heavily. For a time neither of them said anything. Garen almost started to believe he could escape a conversation he’d assumed would be inevitable.

“I do not like to pry, but I could smell sex even through door.” Lars glanced at Garen with a knowing grin on his face. “How was she?”

Garen gritted his teeth. “Hot, passionate, delectable.” He inhaled, the air almost painful in his lungs. “But she doesn’t care about me. Said I caught her at a weak moment. Apologized all over the place and said it would never happen again.”

“Hmph. Well, it would be untrue if I said I were sorry.” Lars flicked the front of his pants. “Imagining the two of you fucking got me going. I will need to take care of myself before I escort the fair fraulein anywhere.” A hesitation. “I do not suppose there is any possibility the three of us could—”

“No.” Something about the vehemence in Garen’s tone earned him a penetrating look from Lars.

“Your airplane, my friend. I will be back.”

“Miranda couldn’t wait to get away from me. She might not be done in the head.”

“If she is not, I will wait. Unless you wish to watch me.”

“In a pig’s eye. Go.” Garen waved both hands at Lars. “It’s a good thing we’re friends. My tolerance for perverts is pretty limited.”

“You know you love me.” Lars blew a kiss and exited the cockpit.

About the Author

Short Bio:

clip_image002[7]Ann Gimpel is a clinical psychologist, with a Jungian bent.  Avocations include mountaineering, skiing, wilderness photography and, of course, writing.  A lifelong aficionado of the unusual, she began writing speculative fiction a few years ago. Since then her short fiction has appeared in a number of webzines and anthologies. Several paranormal romance novellas are available in e-format. Three novels, Psyche’s Prophecy, Psyche’s Search, and Psyche’s Promise are small press publications available in e-format and paperback. Look for two more urban fantasy novels coming this summer and fall: Fortune’s Scion and Earth’s Requiem.

A husband, grown children, grandchildren and three wolf hybrids round out her family.

www.anngimpel.com

http://anngimpel.blogspot.com

http://www.amazon.com/author/anngimpel

http://www.facebook.com/anngimpel.author

@AnnGimpel (for Twitter)


Guest Author ~ Ann Gimpel

Alpine Attraction Banner 450 x 169

clip_image002Alpine Attraction

By Ann Gimpel

Tina made a pact with the devil seven years ago. It’s time to pay the piper—or die.

Genre: Paranormal Romance

Independent to the nth degree, Tina meets everything in her life head-on—except love.

When an almost-forgotten pact with the devil returns to haunt her, Tina knows she has to go back to the Andes to face her doom.

Caught between misgivings and need, she signs on as team doctor for one of Craig’s expeditions. Though he was once the love of her life, she pushed him away years before to keep him safe. Even if he doesn’t love her anymore, there’s still no one she’d rather have by her side in the mountains.

Trapped in a battle of life and death, passion flares, burning hot enough to brand their souls.

Prologue

A heavy weight jammed Tina McKenzie against her mattress. I’m dreaming, her sleep-saturated brain insisted. The pressure doubled and then tripled. Her eyes snapped open, but her bedroom was inky black. She couldn’t see a thing. Breathing became a struggle. Her physician-trained brain panicked. She writhed against an invisible mass lying on top of her. It pushed back.

A burnt odor with overtones of something dead and rotten invaded her nostrils. It smelled like the cadaver lab but without formalin. An insidious cold seeped into her bones. Whatever held her down was freezing her from the inside out. Her heart stuttered. Breath clogged in her throat, unable to move past her squashed larynx. How long could she live without oxygen before she sustained brain damage? A few minutes at best. Her mind shied away from what was happening. The thing in her bedroom wasn’t human. It couldn’t be; it wasn’t breathing. Shit. I’m going to die here.

Her body thrashed against her unseen assailant, but she couldn’t budge it more than an inch or so. No point wasting energy screaming. She lived so remotely, no one would hear her. She tried to raise her arms; they were pinned against her sides. A flickering white haze fractured her vision. People don’t die in dreams.

I’m not dreaming, another inner voice chimed in.

“No, you are not dreaming.” A guttural voice sounded deep in her mind. Accented, it reminded her of… Understanding slammed home and left her reeling. It wasn’t possible. Shivers cascaded down her body. Her blood turned to ice.

“Good,” the voice continued. “You remember me.”

“What?” she sputtered, struggling to get words out. “You can read my thoughts?”

“Of course.” A quiet chuckle. “You made me a promise, doctor. You had seven years. They are nearly expired. Consider yourself fortunate I was kind enough to remind you.”

“Y-you tracked me down?” Her teeth chattered uncontrollably.

The chuckle morphed into a laugh. “I have always known where to find you. Did you delude yourself you were invisible here in the United States? Blood for blood, doctor. You owe me.”

As quickly as it had come, the pressure on her body vanished. Tina shot to a sitting position and sucked air until her oxygen-starved body quit shrieking. She wanted to scream—to curl in a ball and howl—but she was afraid if she gave in to hysteria, she’d never get herself under control again.

Even though common sense told her the danger had passed, she couldn’t stop shaking. Once she thought her legs might support her, she tottered to the window, grasped the light-blocking drapes, and shoved them aside. Medical school and residency had destroyed her natural sleep-wake cycle. She’d installed the room-darkening shades in an attempt to normalize it, except it hadn’t worked. She still was awake until very late; most nights she struggled to get four hours of sleep.

She gazed out the window, frosted from cold. It must have frozen last night. The sky in the east had a pearlescent cast. Dawn. It would be a sunny autumn day in Leadville, Colorado. Too bad the sun wouldn’t percolate into her soul. Tina wrapped her arms around herself. She was so cold she wondered if she’d ever get warm again.

Think, she commanded herself. There’s got to be a way out of this.

Yeah, like what? Years had passed since she’d entered into what she’d always considered a pact with the devil. The further away she’d gotten from that nightmare in the Andes, the more certain she’d become she’d never have to keep her end of the bargain.

Tina walked slowly to her dresser. She tugged the ragged, sweat-soaked T-shirt that doubled as a nightshirt over her head and stood surveying her chilly bedroom. For once in her life she was unsure what to do. Gooseflesh rose, a visceral reminder of her nakedness. She pulled black sweatpants and a top out of a drawer and put them on, followed by half socks and her running shoes. She picked up her iPhone to consult its calendar and then dropped it back onto the top of the dresser. She knew what day it was: October 15th. In two months and ten days, her time would be up.

Adrenaline shot through her. Her stomach roiled. Bile burned the back of her throat. She strode down the hall and stopped in the kitchen long enough to pour water and beans into the coffee maker and set the timer. Tina let herself out the back door. Her jogging route was always the same: eight miles and two thousand feet of gain. It took a little less than ninety minutes. She did it every day she was home despite the weather. In winter it took longer because she used snowshoes.

Tina turned to glance at the buff-colored, turn-of-the-century, two-story farmhouse she called home. It had been in her family for ages. A few miles out of town, she’d always considered the location perfect because no one bothered her. Wind blew the last of the leaves off the aspen trees. She considered returning to fetch a hat, but didn’t want to go back inside. Her house wasn’t hers anymore. The thing—mountain spirit or shaman or whatever the fuck he was—had invaded her territory. It felt sullied. Unclean. I’m going to have to get over that.

Problem was she didn’t believe in the paranormal. She was a scientist, goddammit, trained to believe in what she could see and feel and touch, in what was illuminated under her microscope when she worked in an Emergency Room. Her experience nearly seven years before had been so surreal—she’d relegated it to high altitude hypoxia.

Tina ran hard. Sweat slicked her sides. Her breath came fast. She’d buried the memory of what happened in Bolivia. It came roaring back with a vengeance, almost as if it resented the hell out of the subterranean prison she’d confined it to at the very bottom of her psyche.

* * * *

Tina struggled against wind that wanted to flatten her, or worse, blow her off Illimani’s long summit ridgeline. She was by herself. Twenty-two hundred vertical feet separated her from her camp on the edge of the glacier. “At least I can still see,” she muttered. “And I got the summit.”

She glanced at her watch, illuminated in the beam of her headlamp. One in the morning. Normally, she would have waited until then to start climbing, but wind shrieking like a banshee had made it impossible to sleep. She’d set up her camp at eight p.m. and headed for the mountaintop without stopping to think too hard. She wanted Illimani’s summit. It was the second highest peak in Bolivia and a huge massif with five separate highpoints.

And now I’ve done it.

Careful, a different inner voice cautioned. Ninety percent of climbing accidents happen on the way down.

A vicious blast of wind buffeted her. Tina slammed one of her ice axes into the snow to anchor herself to the mountain. As if her inner voice had been prophetic, clouds descended, obliterating what had been a clear sky in a matter of minutes.

What the fuck? She peered through impenetrable muck. “Shit,” she spat. “I can’t see.” Surely the clouds were a momentary event. They’d pass by, especially in this wind. They had to. Minutes ticked by. Visibility eroded even further. She took a steadying breath and then another. No sat phone. No radio. No one even knew where she was. Yeah, I broke a bunch of really important rules.

This peak was supposed to be easy, one of her inner mavens whined.

Oh shut up.

“Got to pull myself together.” Tina spoke out loud to calm herself. She visualized where she’d been on the mile-long ridge. She’d passed the false summit so she had to be close to the lip that dropped off a fifty-degree cliff. Her heart thudded against her ribs. She panted from more than the twenty thousand foot altitude. She tried to swallow, but dry throat tissue grated against itself. Stooping, she gathered some snow in a glove, made a ball out of it, and placed it in her mouth.

Another blast of wind was so intense she planted her other axe. “Get going,” she instructed herself. “Now.”

Moving by feel, one painstaking step at a time, Tina worked out a rhythm. She probed the snow ahead with an axe. If it held, she moved down to it and stopped. To counteract the vertigo from navigating through thick fog, she counted steps. Her first guess was it wouldn’t take more than five hundred to reach the edge of the ridge. On three fifty-six, one of her axes punched through into open air. Tina threw her body backward, gasping. This was how climbers died. By getting cocky and making bad decisions.

She got to her feet; her legs shook. She shoved an axe into the snow and a chunk fell away. She moved a few degrees to the right; more snow flaked off. By the time she’d inscribed a forty-five degree arc, she knew she had to be at the end of the ridge. Tina fumbled at the hardware belt hanging from her waist and got an ice screw. She threaded it carefully into what felt like firm snow, clipped in a carabineer, and ran her rope through it. Next came a breaker bar attached to her harness so she could rappel down the steep part.

Her breath came fast. She moved more by feel than anything else. Her headlamp beam was weakening and she didn’t have fresh batteries. She tossed out a silent prayer to the god who took care of climbers, double-checked her rope and attachments, and turned to face the slope. Her ice axes dangled from her wrists; her crampon points bit into the snow. She backed down until she felt the slope steepen and then moved the hand that would control her descent out to the side. Her other one gripped the rope over her head to steady her descent.

The minute she put her full weight on her anchor, it ripped out of the snow. The rope, worthless now that it wasn’t attached to anything, hung through the breaker bar. An end whapped her in the face. Holy Christ. I’m falling…

She flailed her axes like a wild woman; one connected with something and held. Tina slammed in the other and her front points. She screamed. Wind ripped the sound away as soon as it left her throat. Fright balled her stomach into a burning knot. One of her crampon front points slipped.

Can’t stay put. Got to move down. No point in going up. Nothing solid to rap off of. Thoughts of falling to her death pounded through her head. To keep from going mad, she lectured herself.

“Move one thing at a time. Three solid points of attachment before I move anything. Test everything. Then test it again… Okay, let’s go.”

Finally, the angle of the slope eased. Her rope had been nothing but a pain in the ass, dangling from the breaker bar attached to her harness. She’d stabbed her front points through it time and time again. She let herself move a little faster. The edge of the glacier was the most welcome thing she’d ever found. She tugged the rope free and tried to coil it, but her hands shook so badly she couldn’t. Tina dropped the rope into the snow, sat on it, dropped her head into her hands, and cried. She was a long way from safety, but the sheer relief of being off the steep face was overwhelming.

The wind hadn’t let up at all. Though not as bad as it had been on the ridge, it was still gusting at forty or fifty miles an hour. She unbuckled her pack and forced herself to eat an energy bar, washed down with water from the bottle stashed in her parka to keep it from freezing. Her headlamp flickered. She shut it off.

Tina shivered. She was still a thousand feet above her camp and she had to cross a glacier riddled with crevasses. The transit would be child’s play on a sunny day; a night like this one, with near zero visibility, turned it into a deadly game of Russian roulette. If she’d brought a sleeping bag, she would have stayed put for what was left of the night.

She wasn’t even certain exactly where her camp was. She hadn’t thought to set wands to mark her route. She didn’t have a GPS with her. Tina struggled to her feet and buckled her pack into place. She’d made a series of neophyte climbing errors, beginning with assuming clear weather would last the next twenty-four hours. She’d badly underestimated Illimani. The mountain was laughing at her.

Tina thought about laughing back, but didn’t want to tempt fate. Besides, she didn’t feel much like laughing. She flicked her headlamp back on and checked her compass to make sure she wouldn’t descend the wrong side of the mountain. Back to counting steps, she contained her fear as best she could. The glacier wasn’t particularly steep, but…

A brutal chop of wind sent her sideways. She planted both axes; the snow beneath her gave way. Tina tumbled into blackness. Aw shit, it’s a crevasse, a crevasse, a crevasse, echoed in her mind. She crashed through two snow bridges. The third one held. She was afraid to breathe. Afraid to do anything to weaken her fragile hold on life. In the feeble beam of her headlamp, she glanced upward. Fifty feet. I fell fifty feet. Thank God nothing’s broken.

Snow bridges were always thicker at their ends. She moved ever so cautiously until she was right next to the smooth inner ice wall of her tomb. She slung an axe into the ice. It bounced off. She tried again. Same result. She kicked with her front points. After many attempts, she was sweating and panting. “Goddammit,” she shrieked. “Fuck.”

“Got to get hold of myself,” she muttered. “If I don’t, I’m as good as dead.”

Tina shut her eyes. If she couldn’t climb out with her tools, maybe she could pound in ice screws. They had threads. She wasn’t certain she had enough to make it all the way out, but she’d freeze to death if she didn’t keep moving. It was very cold in the crevasse. Colder than it had been out on the glacier.

It took a long time to twist the first ice screw in. The second one was easier. Using screws, carabineers, her rope, and jumars, she made it about twenty feet from the snow bridge when her headlamp died. “Shit.” She pounded impotently against the ice. “I can’t believe I was this stupid. Shit. Fuck. Damn it all to hell.”

I can curse all I want—I’m going to die here.

She hung limply in her harness. Her sweat-damp body shivered. The doctor part of her wondered how long it would take to die. Freezing to death was a lot like going to sleep. She wasn’t certain what time it was, but it couldn’t be much past four. Dawn was at least two hours away. Maybe she could hold on, but she didn’t think it likely.

A putrid smell filled her nostrils. It got even colder. “Human woman,” sounded deep in her mind in a strangely accented voice.

“Who said that?” Her neck twisted from side to side, but she couldn’t see a thing in the blackness.

“I offer you a chance to live.”

“How could you possibly do that?” Am I losing my mind? Hypoxia? Harness cutting off my wind?

“If I rescue you, you will return to me and live out your days with me in the Cordillera Real. You must give me your word.”

“Huh? What do you mean return? I’m already here.” Tina’s brain felt wrapped in cotton batting. None of this made sense. Maybe she was already dying and her mind was playing tricks on her.

“You will have seven years in your human world. Once it is over, you must return to me. Do you agree?”

What the hell? “Um, sure. If you can get me out of here, go for it.”

“Unlatch that thing holding you to the wall.”

Fear sluiced through her. Her hands tightened on the rope. “Not on your life.”

A macabre chuckle filled the icy hole under Illimani’s glacier. “No, doctor. It is not my life but yours.”

She started to ask how he knew she was a doctor when a high-pitched whistle bounced off the crevasse walls. The infernal screeching stabbed ice picks into her brain. Cold air closed around her. It smelled like a charnel pit, ripe with things dead long enough to rot. Her ice screw popped from the wall; she made a grab for the rope and closed her arms around it. Air currents jockeyed her upward and out onto the glacier.

Tina blinked. The thick cloud cover was gone. Between an almost full moon and a sky full of stars, she could see without her lamp. She started to coil the rope, but the same insistent air pushed her. “Okay, okay.” She held the mass of Perlon against her chest and staggered down the glacier. It was easy to avoid the crevasses now that she could see where they were.

Her mind rebelled at what just happened. Maybe she’d died in the crevasse or maybe she hadn’t fallen into one at all. Maybe she’d hit her head when she’d fallen off the ridge, had a seizure on the glacier, and this was a postictal state. She shook her head sharply, willing a return of rational thought.

“We are not done, doctor. Stop there.”

Tina tried to keep moving but her feet were mired in place. A glowing form took shape next to her. She stared up at it and gasped, surprised she had any adrenaline left to react. This isn’t possible. It can’t be happening. The thing was over seven feet tall; it shimmered so brightly, she couldn’t look directly at it.

An unseen force yanked one of her arms away from her body. The rope fell in a pile at her feet. Bright light descended; it cut through her jacket and the clothing beneath. She tried to twist her body away, but couldn’t. Blood welled and dripped onto the snow. Golden light enveloped her.

“What are you doing?” Terror skittered along her nerves; it made her shake uncontrollably.

“You made me a promise, doctor. I am sealing your word with a blood bond. Seven years. If you break your vow, I will kill you.”

Tina opened her mouth to protest, to tell the thing it hadn’t told her everything before she’d agreed, but the pulsating light vanished. She turned in a circle to make certain she was alone. Blood dripped from her arm, staining the snow crimson. Her tent shone pale yellow in the moonlight not a hundred yards away. She staggered to it, uncertain what had just happened to her.

I can’t think about this now. If I do, it will drive me mad. Inside her tent, she stripped off her jackets and long underwear. She flicked on a lighter and took a look at her arm. It needed stitches, but they’d have to wait. She was just too tired. As a stopgap, she doused her arm with Betadine, wrapped it with a pressure bandage, and fell into an exhausted sleep.

* * * *

Tina glanced around. It took a moment to orient herself. She was still about a mile-and-a-half from home. Colorado sunshine shone warmly on her, but she was chilled to her bones.

After leaving Bolivia, she’d returned to the rental house she shared with Craig Robson in Denver. He’d been guiding clients in Antarctica, so she had the house to herself. At first, she’d thought that was good, but the harder she tried to make sense out of what had happened to her on Illimani, the more tangled things got. She wondered if she were having a late schizophrenic break, or if she’d truly traded away her humanity in a pact with the devil.

Craig had blown through their front door one day in mid-January with a huge smile on his face and a ring in his pocket. Tina grimaced and forced herself to run faster. It was hard to think about the day Craig asked her to marry him. There’d been no way she could be his wife. She had no idea what she’d gotten herself into in Bolivia, no inkling of what the ramifications would be. The whole thing was too weird to even try to explain and she was frightened she’d put Craig at risk if she told him anything. Even without Bolivia, she’d had other reservations as well. She hadn’t been ready to marry anyone—not then, and not in the years since. The look on his face when she’d turned him down still haunted her.

She slammed into her house, blowing hard. Usually, she cooled down. Today she was too edgy, nerves jangling with tension. Maybe she should put in another few miles… Tina poured coffee into an oversized mug and slugged some back. It burned, but its bitterness tasted good. She savored it and waited for the blast of caffeine to hit.

Cup gripped in her hand, she forced herself into her study. No more running today. She had things to do. Reaching down, she booted up her computer. There was no getting around it. She had to go back to Bolivia. If she didn’t, she had no doubt the next supernatural visit would mean her death. Better to die on her feet in a direct confrontation than pinned to her mattress.

The Microsoft menu scrolled across the screen. She brought up the Internet and typed in the URL for Craig’s guiding service. If she got really lucky, he’d have a trip to Bolivia planned in the next couple of months. She wanted to see Craig one last time before she faced whatever had hauled her out of the crevasse and threatened her this morning in her bedroom. She’d signed on as team doctor for his expeditions over the last couple of years, but they’d never talked about anything personal. This time she’d gird her courage and apologize.

clip_image006About the Author

Ann Gimpel is a clinical psychologist, with a Jungian bent.  Avocations include mountaineering, skiing, wilderness photography and, of course, writing.  A lifelong aficionado of the unusual, she began writing speculative fiction a few years ago. Since then her short fiction has appeared in a number of webzines and anthologies. Several paranormal romance novellas are available in e-format. Three novels, Psyche’s Prophecy, Psyche’s Search, and Psyche’s Promise are small press publications available in e-format and paperback. Look for two more urban fantasy novels coming this summer and fall: Fortune’s Scion and Earth’s Requiem.

A husband, grown children, grandchildren and three wolf hybrids round out her family.

www.anngimpel.com

http://anngimpel.blogspot.com

http://www.amazon.com/author/anngimpel

http://www.facebook.com/anngimpel.author

@AnnGimpel (for Twitter)